A Practical Guide To Simple Shopping

Last Tuesday, a beautiful beautiful duffel bag caught my eye at the mall.

Here, I borrowed a photo of it off the Converse website so you could see what I was obsessing about.

Isn't it gorgeous?

Isn't it gorgeous?

I actually had to pick up a work package from a shop over my lunch break --- which explains the unplanned mall trip --- but I was mighty tempted.

And as often happens, I started convincing myself to buy it.


I can use it for my weekend trips, and I bet with those zippers, it’ll be at least water-resistant, and ooh, it feels so smooth and look at that handy pocket in the corner for my shoes! I know I wasn’t planning to buy anything today but when am I going to find a not-ugly duffel bag that matches my Jedi-ish style so well? It’s perfect AND I NEED IT!!!
— slightly deranged me

I took a deep breath and admired how awesome it was.

Then I put it back on the shelf and left.

Because I didn't need it.

I just thought I did for a while.

During my shopaholic days, I would have bought that bag without even thinking about it beforehand. I wouldn't have been able to resist.

It's tough to control ourselves, amIright? With how pretty packaging can be, how cheap deals kinda jump in our faces, and how easy it's become to check out an online cart. (Yes, I'm looking at you, 1-Click Ordering!)

We're left with a lower bank balance and a mild sense of guilt when we buy something - or a lot of somethings - we don't really need after all.

Then there's the overwhelm that comes with it sometimes. I mean, all the choices! This brand or that; that color or this. The reviews say this is good but that one seems even better.

And the more money we need to spend, the more we research the best options. It all gets so confusing.

The thing is, there's nothing really wrong with shopping.

Depending on your life situation, finding stuff you need without buying it isn't always practical. (Kudos to friends who grow their own food, for example, but that's not something I can say yes to right now!) Shelling the money might make your life happier and simpler.

But how do we shop without making it so stressful?

1. Know what you need (and why!)

This is super-important, friends.

When you go shopping without knowing what you want or why you want it, the chance of coming home with something you'll eventually regret buying is seriously high.

If you're clear about this, you can look at something, say "Ooh, that's nice, but it isn't my style.", and walk away without second-guessing yourself.

You can start doing this by looking back at the things you've bought and regretted.

Then pay attention to any patterns.

Are you buying stuff for a hobby you say you'll get around to someday but never do? (Hi, this was me.)

Maybe shopping bohemian-ish tops when you're more comfortable dressing in a different style? (Hi again.)

These patterns hint at what you like and why. Keep them in mind for the next time you're shopping.

2. Think about your purchase in terms how you earn it.

How much do you earn at work per day?

You take that number and compare it to the price of whatever you want to buy.

Say, I see a coffee table book I want for x dollars. I divide that by what I earn (in dollars per day), then tell myself "I need to work an 8 hour shift to pay for that book. Am I willing to work 8 hours for it?"

I'm always amazed at how framing it in those terms often kills the desire to buy (unless I really want/need it, of course!). My answer pretty much tells me if I want it or not, and it'll tell you the same.

You don't need to use work per day, by the way. Your pay per hour, or if you're a freelancer, what you get paid per project would work too.

The point is to translate that price tag into the amount of work you do to earn that money.

Try it; you'll be surprised at how it transforms your thinking about shopping.

3. Don't buy duplicates.

Some people recommend buying duplicates of stuff you like, but I've found not doing so works better.

It helps me shop for what I really need and waste less.

For example, if something has an expiry date and I get three of them, the third item gets expired before I run out of the first two.

Or if I buy duplicates of a shoe I love for fear of not finding it again when I need a new pair, I'll usually have gotten tired of wearing it or found a nicer pair later.

Buying duplicates also means finding space to store them in our homes. Those stockpiles could eventually lead to hoarding. It's a slippery slope, people.

There are only two reasons why buying duplicates would work:

  • Practical things you've kept using for a long time (like toilet paper). Especially when sales allows you to save money on these items!
  • The places you shop at are hard to get to, so you don't get to shop often. (But honestly, how often is this a problem for most of us?)

Other than that, buying duplicates isn't something I recommend. It makes shopping simpler.

4. Listen to your gut feeling.

Have you ever noticed how your gut feels about certain things you've shopped for?

Like when you're lining at the cashier, and looking at the item in your hand gives you a sinking feeling in your gut.

Or when you buy something and feel pretty awesome every time you think about it for the rest of the week.

Those feelings are a pretty good sign of how you'll feel about what you shopped for after the thrill of buying new stuff dies down.

So next time you shop, ask yourself: Would you feel lighter if you buy it / don't buy it? Then listen to your gut feeling.

That may sound pretty woo-woo, but in my experience, it rarely leads you wrong.

5. You can appreciate things without owning them.

Maybe those shoes / cinnamon buns / insert awesome thing here are amazing, but you already have another pair of shoes / donuts / something else that's almost the same thing.

When this happens, take a closer look. Feel the texture, hold it in your hand, appreciate how well-made it is. (Unless you can't put it back after you hold it, then just look and don't touch! *wink*)

Then walk away.

You don't have to own something to get joy from it.

Sometimes, just looking is often enough.

(This is what I did with the Converse bag I mentioned at the start, by the way!)

But what if you really want it? Then let's look at the next tip...

6. See if you can get it differently.

You don't have to get things brand-new and high-priced. How about...

  • borrowing it? Like books from the library or a friend.
  • getting a cheaper alternative? Maybe your coveted item has a twin under a generic brand. (Note: Just make sure you won't continue lusting after the original after you've bought the twin!)
  • getting it secondhand? I have secondhand cameras that I love and got at 40-60% of the new price, for example.
  • buying it with a promotion? There's nothing wrong with taking advantage of sales when you wanted it at full-price anyway.
  • swapping with friends? I got some of my favorite things from friends who no longer had any use for them, and vice-versa. One man's trash is another man's treasure is definitely a legit statement!

To repeat what I said at the start, there's nothing wrong with shopping for things we need and use. But getting it cheaper --- or even for free! --- means we angst less over money spent.

7. Stop second-guessing your shopping choices.

Before you've bought something, it's natural to find the best bang for your buck.

I'm particularly obsessive about this depending on how expensive the purchase will be: glancing at Amazon reviews, stalking blogs and forums, and so on.

But after I actually buy what I've chosen, I stop.

I stop checking out alternatives and looking at deals. I decide this item is enough and it makes me happy.

Because when we keep wondering if we've made the right choice after we've made the decision, it lessens how satisfied we are and give us a lot of grief.

(Science agrees with me in this study, if you're curious!)

Since we're talking simple, let's cut out the complication of second-guessing. You'll be all the better for it.

I've definitely stressed less over shopping since I started using these tips. Specifically, I spend wayyyy less on buying stuff I regret later on, and enjoy what I do buy more.

I hope adopting this simple shopping guide helps you do the same!

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